The Early Fall Muskie Action on the Madison Chain of Lakes

by Free Speech on September 17, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

River Currents
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Adam Oberfoell with a fall monster from the Madison Chain

Adam Oberfoell with a fall monster from the Madison Chain

Officially, the fall of the year is here in a few days. Fall is that time of the year when muskie anglers start thinking about catching the big fish that are getting “ready” for the cold of winter by going on a feeding binge and bulking up for winter and a period of a much slower metabolism and less eating.

I’ve written and told many of you that you don’t have to go to northern counties of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, or even Canada to find muskies and especially big muskies! The Madison Chain of Lakes, particularly Lake’s Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa, give anglers a chance of catching a muskie over that magical 50 inch mark close to home. Last year, the “chain” lakes produced 5 muskies over 50 inches and they have produced a few more of these huge, 50 inch plus fish again this summer. I’ve been working on and researching an article on fall muskie fishing across the Upper Midwest and Canada, but while writing I remembered that there is an excellent late summer or early fall time period when muskies slide into shallow water. This “window” provides some shallow water action that can be exciting and very productive. During my research, besides checking my own journals, I talked to many of the area’s and states best muskie fishermen and guides for their thoughts on early fall and later fall muskie fishing. I thank local guides and professionals, like Wally Banfi, Jeff Hanson, Geoff Crandell, Pat Westberg, Adam Oberfoell, Lee Tauchen, Russ Smith, Ron Barefield, and Jim Gallion for their tips and thoughts.

The Madison Chain of Lakes has had a good muskie population for years and it seems to b getting better. This Chain has been heavily stocked by the Wisconsin DNR for decades, since there is no known natural reproduction in any of these waters. We are blessed with a group of DNR personnel who are fishermen and take great pride in their work. I’m talking about Mike Staggs, Kurt Welke, Scot Stewart, Tim Simonson, and Scott Harpold of the DNR to name a few of these dedicated DNR workers. The DNR has been conducting surveys, doing research, and stocking muskies from both the Wisconsin strain of muskies and the Minnesota Leech Lake muskie strain in our local waters for years. The Capital City Chapter of Muskies, Inc. and the Oregon Muskie Busters have also helped by donating funds for fish stocking and helping to purchase much needed equipment for these studies and future research. The DNR is trying to see which muskie species does better in “our waters” and should be stocked in the future.

Muskie experts Adam Oberfoell, Jeff Hanson, and Pat Westberg all have written me and talked about the early fall shallow water “bite” which happens to start at the end of August usually after the first cold rain of fall. The food chain of bait and forage fish has begun to migrate or slide back into shallow water after spending most of the summer suspended over deep water in most lake’s main basin. Hanson, who is one of the state’s top muskie guides and tournament anglers, says that he sees muskies going shallow when the water temperature is around 70 degrees and falling. Jeff and Adam both told me that muskies will often be found in water that is only a foot or two deep. So, don’t be afraid to fish right up to the shoreline and around any docks and piers. You may feel like a bass angler, but the thrill of having a big muskie slam your top water bait or spinnerbait is exciting to say the least! The milfoil weeds are starting to die and there is a foot or two of open water above the dying weeds that give you enough room to work a spinnerbait, top water bait, or big “double ten bucktail’ like the Spanky Fireball lure over the weeds according to Hanson. If it’s a cloudy day, use a fast retrieve and “burn” your bucktails and spinners back to the boat just under the surface for aggressive fish while covering as much water as possible. If the weeds are still thick, Jeff recommends switching to a big spinnerbait with a willow leaf blade.

Wisconsin DNR Tech Scott Harpold shows off another Madison Chain lunker fall muskie

Wisconsin DNR Tech Scott Harpold shows off another Madison Chain lunker fall muskie

This is still a good time to use top water baits like the Low Riders, B.S. Willy Globes, Choppers, and Top Raiders. All of these baits are tough to beat this time of year. The tail-rotating top water baits can also be very effective during this period of transition. The best times to fish these baits or lures are on dark days and during low light periods of the day.

Pat Westberg also suggests fishing shallow for muskies before the lake’s turnover which brings constant water temperatures and oxygen throughout the water column. Pat adds that fall muskie fishing is a “gentleman’s bite” when you don’t have to be on the water before sunrise and the best action can often be in the middle of the day! Another good tip that Westberg adds is to religiously fish the moon phases if at all possible.

All of these professionals that I’ve been talking with also agree that during the early fall and before turnover, fish any “good” green weeds that you can find. Good weeds are coontail, cabbage, and sand grass. Minocqua’s Russ Smith, who owns Smity Bait Company and has been guiding in Wisconsin for over 35 years, agrees that finding green weeds can be a fall key along with fishing deeper lakes that have steep breaking drop-offs close to shore with ciscoes as the main forage base. Smity says that every lake is different and his “Bread and Butter” lures during the fall is the jerk bait in natural colors like; cisco, sucker, firetiger, and perch. These colors match the forage base that can be found in deeper lakes and many Wisconsin waters.

Finally local muskie angler, Geoff Crandell, said that the early and later fall is a great time for those that row-troll for muskies. Crandell says that the fall is a great time for the row troller because you have lower water temperatures and the muskies are fattening up for the winter. Geoff looks for baitfish that is migrating toward shore and shallower water. This period of transition can be an angler’s bonanza with muskies moving shallow (again 1-2 feet) to feed on these baitfish. When this happens some good lures to use include; Topper Stoppers, Top Raiders, Globes, and Dancin’ Raiders. Crandell again likes to fish the new moon, but like most of us, he fishes when he can and makes the most out of it!

Friend and Muskies, Inc. member, Jim Gallion, fishes the lakes in the Milwaukee area like Lake’s Pewaukee, Random, and Lac La Belle. Jim again says like the others, fish any green weeds that you can find because they are “fish magnets.” Cast your spinnerbaits over the weed tops while slowing down your retrieve with a few bursts of speed as you retrieve to your boat. The muskies, may be shallower than you think, where large twitch bait like an 8” Slammer can be twitched and paused for action in a early fall.

These are tips and tactics to use during this part of late summer or early fall on most Madison Chain waters and also on most lakes that contain muskies. These are tips and tactics from some of the state’s best muskie anglers. I’ll have more tips for fishing in October, November, and hopefully December as the fall progresses. Remember, that these tips and tactics are for muskies before the tunrnover. I’ll have another article as the season progresses. You may always contact me at or .

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